The Arctic Trail – Kautokeino to Kilpisjärvi pt3 (mist and misery)

by backpackingbongos

The Arctic trail starts at Kautokeino in the far north of Norway and heads south for approximately 800 kilometres. It crosses into Finland and Sweden, finishing either in Kvikkjokk (Sweden) or Sulitjelma (Norway). To confuse things the trail has a different name in each of the countries through which it passes. In Norway it is called the Nordkalottruta, in Finland the Kalottireitti, and in Sweden the Nordkalottleden. In English it is simply called the Arctic Trail as the entire 800 kilometres are above of the Arctic Circle. Not to be confused with the Arctic Circle Trail, which is in Greenland!

Part one can be read here.

Part two can be read here.

Pitched above 650 metres I was exposed to the wind that increased during the night. The rain was intermittent to start with but by morning it had gained some urgency, flying horizontally across the open hillside. As I was packing I heard a shout and stuck my head out of the tent and was greeted by five waterproof clad guys, rucksack covers flapping over huge packs. A quick conversation established that they were heading to Kilpisjärvi, my final destination. They were in high spirits and I watched as they climbed the hill beyond my tent and disappeared into the mist.

After enjoying mornings of being able to pack outside the tent under blue skies and sunshine, it was no fun doing so in the confines of the Enan. A mass of wet flapping nylon was then wrestled into its stuffsack and off I set into the wind and rain.

This was the day where I was hoping for good clear weather as the trail contours high along the hillside, staying above 800 metres for a few miles. I could sense the space to my right, the map indicating a huge drop to the valley hidden in the mist. With the wind blowing the rain directly into my face it was a matter of putting my head down and getting on with it.

In some ways I was enjoying the grimness of it all, after days of freakishly perfect weather it was good to have a bit of variety. I marched along with the aim of getting to a warm dry hut by the end of the day.

Sometimes it’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security and forget just how remote the area is that you’re in. Accidents can happen so quickly and when they do you realise just how vulnerable you can be as a solo hiker. Easy angled slabs surrounded what looked to be a pretty innocuous stream. I literally put one foot down and instantly I fell heavily on my side, my arm pinned underneath me. I don’t know what hit first, the pain or the shock. I lay on the wet rock for a while, unable to move due to my heavy pack. I had dropped my hiking pole in the stream and watched as it started a slow descent towards the sea. Luckily I managed to stop it with my foot by sliding further down the slab, and then escaped from my rucksack which was holding me down like an upended tortoise. I sat there for ages, horrible pain in my upper arm whilst I continued to be battered by the wind and rain. It’s the loneliest that I have ever felt in the hills.

It took a while before I dared move my arm, thankfully everything moved ok and any prodding did not hurt too much. All the pain was deep inside my upper arm. I pondered what to do. It was a good long days walk back to the end of the dirt road at Saraelv. I would then have to either walk another day to the village of Sappen or try to hitch (being Norway Taxi’s are way out of my budget!). Even then I was unsure where to go for medical help or how to eventually get to Tromsø for my booked flight home. The alternative was to continue for the final eighty kilometres to Kilpisjärvi in Finland and the comfort of an apartment I had booked for a couple of nights. I would then be in easy reach of Tromsø and medical facilities if needed.

Seeing that I could actually move my arm I decided to continue as planned. It was difficult putting my rucksack back on and I could not use a trekking pole in my left hand. I continued on into the mist, wind and rain a lot less happy than I had been earlier that morning.

The problem with contouring slopes, especially in poor visibility is the fact that it feels like you are constantly walking up hill. It was with some relief to finally reach the high valley of Čoalbmevággi and its string of lakes. A sign pointed the way to the hut at Somashytta, 8 kilometres away. I knew that I would not make it that evening.

The wind whipping down the 750 metre high valley was ferocious, and when I found a spot that was relatively sheltered I decided to call it a day and pitch. Once changed into dry clothes and warm and snug in the tent I lay there and reflected on the day. My arm was throbbing and kept me awake as it was difficult to get comfortable. I lay there listening to the wind and unrelenting rain.

Something did not feel right at dawn. I sat up to find that the foot end of the tent was submerged in water, a small stream running through the porch. The bottom half of my sleeping bag and Thermarest were soaked, whilst my pack was positively floating. I immediately packed everything away, making sure that dry items remained dry and set off by 7am.

The wind had dropped slightly but the air remained as wet and misty as the day before. Water was running everywhere, the hills white streaks of water. As I crested a rise and looked down at what was meant to be a stream, my stomach knotted at what I was faced with. Flowing water filled a small valley, the faint trail entering the water and exiting it a couple hundred metres away. My boots were already saturated so I plunged straight in and slowly made my way across. Thankfully although the river was wide it only came to just above the knee and I made it to the other side without incident.

I was relieved to see the cabin eventually loom through the mist. There was a single occupant, a German chap called Thomas who had arrived the previous evening after a thirty kilometre battle through the weather. He had decided to take a rest day and although only 10am I decided that I also would not be continuing any further that day. Both myself and my kit was sodden and as I peeled off layers they were hung above the stove. The cabin was small with only two bunks sleeping four, plus space for a couple of people under the eaves. I bagged a bunk and soon had even more wet kit hanging from every available space. As I was finishing early for the day I placed my Spot3 device next to an open window in the sleeping area, firing off a couple of OK messages for my wife. The green flashing lights indicated that both went through ok, but more about that on the next and final trip report.

Not long after settling down with a hot drink and some food, three bedraggled Austrians appeared. It turned out that they were part of the group of five that had passed my tent the previous morning. Somehow they had got separated from the other two and had managed to follow the wrong trail. The two other Austrians had managed to find the hut the night before but they had the only map! The first thing they did once changed into dry clothes was give me a beer and then keep on topping up my coffee with strong rum. These guys definitely were not part of the lightweight brigade as they pulled bags of potatoes, tins and fresh steaks from their packs.

The last person to arrive later that afternoon was a serious young German lad who was thru-hiking the Nordkalottleden. He was doing it lightweight and definitely knew his technical fabrics.

As someone who prefers his own space, the tiny hut was almost a bit much for me with all the bodies inside. With the stove roaring and wet gear everywhere it soon resembled a very smelly sauna. I was also the only native English speaker among five German speakers, so some of the conversations were a bit lost on me!

As dusk started to fall and we were all beginning to get ready for an early night, vehicle lights were spotted approaching from further down the valley. Eventually three large quad bikes pulled up and the occupants entered the hut. It was clear that they had come to spend the night and were not happy that all the beds had been taken. We offered them the floor and then things started to get a bit heated. They were Sami men who were working with the reindeer in the mountains. Half of the hut is locked for which they have the key, whilst the other hut is for anyone to use. They said that they had forgotten their key and expected us to leave and pitch our tents (it was still very wet and windy and was now dark). Thankfully one of the Austrians spoke good Norwegian and managed to calm things down after lots of slamming of doors etc. They eventually ‘miraculously’ found the key to the locked side and with lots of swearing settled down for the night, after getting out chainsaws to noisily cut wood. The whole experience was rather unsettling as the Sami men were very big tough looking guys. To work outside in such a challenging area you would need to be pretty hard and hardy.

After all the excitement I found it difficult to sleep. My arm was still causing lots of pain which seemed amplified as I lay in bed, making it impossible to get comfortable in the tiny bunk.

It was with relief when someones alarm went off at 5am. I was keen to escape the cabin and head back into the lonely mountains.

The paper map that I used on this segment is the red covered Norge-serien 10154 Reisadalen.

Whilst hiking I shared my route live on Social Hiking. That route can be found here and viewable on Google maps.

If you’re interested in following this route on an electronic topo map they are in order below. You can click to view them full size.

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6 Comments to “The Arctic Trail – Kautokeino to Kilpisjärvi pt3 (mist and misery)”

  1. That hut looked a piece of very welcome luxury!

  2. Even steamy and full of people that hut looks like a blessing. I know how anxious I would have been with the hurt arm and the shouty men. I hope things improve in the next installment!

  3. Epic stuff! Echo the sentiment that you tend to take this sort of walking for granted until you pick up an injury. It can happen all too easily, and often as a result of an innocuous trip or fall. The experience you have no doubt helps you stay calm. And then a flooded pitch and hut based confrontation. A rollercoaster story this one is turning into.

  4. when you are the engine and get ill or injured it is a sobering day, full of doubt about your ability to move on. Hoe never to find my limits. Great work Mr Bongo.

  5. Wow, a close call James. You did well to get things sorted out. It is a sobering reminder of how vulnerable one can be when travelling solo. Your skill and common sense shine through.

  6. Ouch!

    You are a better man than me. But You know that already! I could never do anything like this. Well done with the way you coped with such adversity.

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